It’s safe to say that over the years, Steven Spielberg has worked with some of Hollywood’s best talent. However, the famous director is now calling the experience he had working with Irishman Daniel Day-Lewis in his ‘Lincoln’ biopic “life-changing.”
Spielberg spoke with Edward Hale in an interview for the Irish Examiner.
“I have worked with many fine, wonderful actors,” begins Spielberg, “who all bring different values to their characters. I have learned how they arrive at those very private and personal moments of consolidation where they are really able to imprint on a character, to deliver the message, convince us they are that person.”
“Everybody has a different technique and I quite frankly don’t care how anybody gets to where they need to go. But I will say that I think Daniel and Tom Hanks are the two actors who I have had life-changing experiences with as a director.”
Spielberg directed Day-Lewis is the critically-acclaimed ‘Lincoln,’ which is nominated for an array of awards this year, including eleven Oscars. Day-Lewis scooped up the Golden Globe for Best Leading Actor for his turn as the 16th American president.
Spielberg says how he has long been fascinated by the presidency of Abraham Lincoln and wanted to bring it to the big screen. While putting together a strong script was the first step, the second for Spielberg was finding the right actor to portray Lincoln.
“And the second step,” said Spielberg, “was to find an actor to play Abraham Lincoln. For me it was Daniel Day-Lewis.”
Spielberg later went on to say that without Day-Lewis committing to the role, the director would have probably opted to turn the story into a miniseries for HBO which he would have produced.
Day-Lewis’ dedication to his role didn’t go unnoticed by his costars either, such as Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who plays one of Lincoln’s sons in the film.
“Working with Daniel is a phenomenon,” says Joseph Gordon-Levitt. “I was lucky enough to be on set the last day, and I never heard his real voice or saw him out of costume until that night.
“He showed up in jeans and T-shirt and was the fun, sensitive artist guy. Prior to that I had only interacted with ‘The President’.”
Tony Kushner, the film’s screenwriter, also sang Day-Lewis’ praise in his ability to capture “the terrible burden of responsibility that Lincoln struggled with and also the loneliness that comes from being a person who understands responsibility and what must be done.”
Prior to working with Day-Lewis on ‘Lincoln,’ Spielberg had turned to other Irishman Liam Neeson to take on the role of Abraham Lincoln in a project that never really got off the ground. Spielberg had worked with Neeson in 1993’s ‘Schindler’s List,’ which won seven Oscars.
Spielberg explains that for that initial Lincoln project, he had gone to Daniel Day-Lewis to take on the role, but the Wicklow man “had said no in a beautifully written letter,” so he turned to Neeson. That project, however, never ultimately came together, but Spielberg and Neeson had a very “amicable” parting of their ways.
“I didn’t think I’d have a chance to get Daniel to reconsider a brand new Lincoln movie,” said Spielberg of his second attempt at a Lincoln project. “But I tried to get to him in various ways. I tried to get to him through his manager.”
Other Hollywood A-Lister Leonardo DiCaprio was soon to help though. “We were having dinner,” Spielberg recalls, “and I told Leo the whole story with Daniel about how I had tried to do a Lincoln movie and the next day Leo called me in the office and said, ‘Take this number down. That’s Daniel Day-Lewis’s cell phone and he is expecting your call’. And that’s when the train started pulling out of the station.”
And now that train is roaring in for Academy Award glory.The film now nominated for a staggering twelve Oscars - including Day-Lewis for Best Lead Actor. If he wins, this will be Day-Lewis’ third Oscar for a lead actor performance.
The Oscars air on February 24th on ABC.